The Great American Road Trip Part 1: Midwest

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

“Killerfemme, where have you been this summer?” “Where haven’t I been?” I think, at this point. I’ve spent the past three months visiting 17 states and 23 different cities on a book tour to connect with DIY and handmade business owners to promote my first book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! Besides getting to meet rad creative people all over the country, I’m really grateful that Grow gave me a reason to travel to places I hadn’t been since 2002, the last time I took a cross country road trip, like Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also took me to places I’d never been before (and hope to go back to) like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

In front of Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota

In front of Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. Open 24 hours a day for nearly 70 years!

The lure of the open road has been immortalized in American literature and culture, with John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac being some of the most prominent. Of course, as an angst ridden teenager I was deeply influenced by the later and wrote a whole faux road trip novel at age 15 having barely left Maine or and only visited New York City once. This summer I was really excited to set out in mid-July to “middle America,” or “fly over country” as it is so dismissively called by some ignorant coastal souls. This trip was hardly a drug-fueled whim like those of my beatnik brothers (are you kidding? I was driving! I hardly had a drink!), but a journey with the explicit purpose of promoting Grow. I wrote about what I learned about DIY and craft business on the Grow blog, but of course, one can’t work 24/7. So here I wanted to share some more personal images from the lovely places I visited.

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to connect with friends I had met through publishing zines and the underground, punk community over a decade ago. Some of them I had figured I’d never see again, but instead, here they were, living full, beautiful, inspiring lives. For me, seeing these women again showed me why the concept of DIY has remained so compelling: when you are committed to making something, adding value to your community, and forging a genuine connection with other creatives, those relationships last.

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby's in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby’s in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

I shouldn’t have to say it, but the Midwest suffers a bad wrap from those on the coasts, even though so many people living here are from there. It’s a diverse place and full of history. It contains key locations along the Underground Railroad (don’t think that walking across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio didn’t give me chills), to battles fought in “Indian Country”  over questions of slavery versus freedom and Native sovereignty in Kansas and Oklahoma, to current events, as Detroit declared bankruptcy just days after I visited (it’s not my fault!).

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Midwest is also breathtakingly beautiful. Though it may not boast the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast, it has a sky that stretches on forever, rolling green fields, and dusty roads that scream, “Take an adventure, America!” While I am a reluctant American, spending two weeks in the Midwest reminded me that I am very much of this country. I appreciate the pioneering and the “Can do, make to” spirit of the people I met in my travels.

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Also, breaking news: Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR are no longer so original or special. Do you think I had to give up fair trade, cold brew coffee or organic, local produce while I was on the road? Quite the opposite! Cities and small towns all over the US are bursting with local goodness and it’s exciting to feel like “local flavor” actually means something again.

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

However, I also found myself enjoying some mass produced pleasures, like the fact that you can get 20 different kinds of iced tea for under $2 at a “gourmet” gas station like Quik Trip (thought I just got black, unsweetened tea). I mean, thank you, America, this iced tea kept me awake through some long drives and was delicious to boot. So, if you ever think, “Should I visit Tulsa? Or Omaha?” the answer is emphatically,
“Yes!”

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

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Introducing my first book: “Grow: How to take your do-it-yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job!”

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Grow cover design by Meggyn Pomerleau and Joe Biel

Happy new year! I’m kicking off 2013 with some big news: This year will see the release of my very first book, entitled Grow: How to take your D.I.Y. project and passion to the next level and quit your job!. It will be coming out in June of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles, a great indie press from Portland, Oregon. Cantankerous is a part of Microcosm Publishing, a publisher I have respected and admired for years for their support of emerging and established writers and artists with independent, and radical, views.

Grow is a practical field guide for creative people with great ideas for independent projects who want to achieve success and sustainability. Whether their projects are based in independent publishing, music, food, art, craft, activism or community work, it will enable readers to clarify their project vision, get organized, set goals, create a plan, raise funds for, market, and manage their do-it-yourself project. The book is full of real-life inspiration and creative business advice from successful, independent businesses owners and creative people with projects that began in the do-it-yourself spirit.

DIY has been a part of my life since I was a child and my parents taught me to make my own clothes and grow my own vegetables, and I launched an organic gardening business. The ideas to write Grow grew out of my fifteen-year involvement with punk, feminist, and independent art communities. As a teenager the idea of do-it-yourself seemed infinitely logical because I loved to write and play music and was passionate about social justice and feminism. At the time I understood that as a teenager no “real” publisher or record label would take me seriously. “Why should I wait for someone else?” I asked myself. I started a personal zine, launched a record and cassette label, and co-founded a Riot Grrrl inspired group for young feminists in my home town of Portland, Maine.

Since then I have published zines, helped found and run the annual Portland Zine Symposium, played and toured with indie rock bands, edited a queer, feminist art journal, wrote a food blog and hosted artisanal food events, and worked as a media and art educator, programmer, and administrator. With Grow I want to share what I have learned with others who take their ideas seriously and are building a creative, independent life.

This book reflects my vision for supportive communities where people are creatively fulfilled, economically stable, and able to build healthy, balanced lives on their own terms. It’s a big vision, but I know that together we can make it happen.

There’s going to be lots of exciting Grow related workshops, events and web-content leading up to and upon its release, so please visit (and follow) the books’ very own website at Growdiy.com which will be updated regularly with news, interviews and ideas for those involved in DIY culture. You can also “like” Grow on Facebook here and sign up for my brand new mailing list for regular (and infrequent) updates here.

Thank you to all who have supported me (and continue to do so) through the process of becoming an author. In the wise words of Amy Schroeder, it truly does take a community to do it yourself!

Have a happy, healthy and revelatory 2013 everyone!

My Top Five Songs of 2012 (plus one!)

Happy last day of 2012 everyone! Like many music nerds I used to make a top ten list of the new albums I had bought, and loved, each year. I’ve majorly backed off on buying albums and also lived under a music rock for quite some time. However, thanks to some good friends who clued me back into music and to services like Spotify (controversial, I know, but great for discovering new music), as well as going to big music events like South by South West and CMJ I feel like I’ve gotten back in the music game (and have bought albums, not just streamed them for free, thank you very much!). So here’s my top five songs, plus one bonus, that came out this year that have stuck with me.

I love Tame Impala’s fuzzed out pop. It’s catchy, it’s trippy and I feel like I can listen to it forever.

My favorite musical discovery this year: great songs, great people and a great future ahead for Torches. And a great video.

I’ll be honest that this video is hard for me to watch, especially as someone who used to work in violence prevention. But! Alt-J (∆) is a fantastic band and this song has been on repeat since I first heard it.

I realize I’m cheating a little bit on the Local Natives – their album Hummingbird, which features “Breakers,” comes out in January of 2013 and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, but this single came out this year and it’s fabulous.

Grimes is wonderful and weird. It kind of irks me she’s become somewhat of a fashion icon (she’s featured in Vogue every month it seems), but good for her. She must have a good agent. I still like her music though.

Wild Nothing sounds like a wander through all my top 80’s bands. And as a travel junkie I appreciate this video.

Also, based on Flavorpill’s annual stereotyping of people based on their favorite record of the year I am either: a boring English dude (Alt-J), a shaggy haired dude who stands in front of you at shows (Tame Impala), or a girl who updates her Tumblr several times an hour (Grimes).

What were your favorite songs of 2012?

Have a safe and happy new years, everyone!

Stoked on New York: My CMJ Week

Corita performs as a three piece at our 2012 CMJ showcase

The annual College Music Journal, or CMJ, festival is an event I usually try to avoid. During those five days in October I find that my usual favorite music venues are mobbed with people who have no idea how to act at a New York show (what is this youthful enthusiasm they exhibit?).  I have noticed that the high energy and packed schedule of events seem to make me more tired than excited. However, when my band Corita was selected to play an official CMJ showcase and our friends Torches came east for their first New York shows this I decided that this year I would come out of my curmudgeonly shell and participate in the festival. What followed was one of the most fun, sleep deprived weeks of my entire life.  Below is a recap.

Torches play their first NYC show ever at Arlene’s Grocery

While the official CMJ festival began on Tuesday, I kicked off the week a little early on Monday night to see Torches’ first-ever show in New York City. You may remember my bandmates and I met Torches in a parking lot outside of a bike shop at South by South West in March (they used to be called Torches in Trees, but they now just go by Torches). We were struck by their genuine excitement about the music they were making, the beauty of their songs and commitment to making their band a success. I was also doubly glad to see them because to get to New York on Monday they had driven straight to NYC from Minneapolis, about a 20 hour drive, after their show there on Sunday night.

Torches close out their first NYC show at Arlene’s Grocery

Having lived in NYC for eleven years now, sometimes I forget how frenetic it can be. Showing Torches around the Lower East Side was a fantastic chance to see the city through new eyes, and update my knowledge of my hometown as we ran around testing bars, pizza places and late night dining options.

On Tuesday, running on two hours of sleep, I picked up my official CMJ badge. Looking at it I took a moment to reflect on the fact that Corita is actually working slowly, at our own pace, to establish ourselves as a band. I also made a last minute flyer to give out.

Official 2012 CMJ artist badge!

My attempt at “marketing and promotion”

Wednesday was Corita’s showcase show at Fontana’s, a great club on the Lower East Side which also hosted our first show ever over three years ago. It is rare to find bookers and promoters who are supportive of independent music in Manhattan and who take the time to care about your band at all, but Jasper at Fontana’s has been there for us and we felt really privileged to be part of their “faves” showcase. The only wrinkle was that our bassist Aileen wasn’t there. She was stuck dealing with a situation that included tabloids, court room brawls, tears and the Walking Dead. We soldiered on as a three piece and I think pulled off a pretty rockin’ show.

Corita as a three piece at our CMJ showcase at Fontana’s

Corita at Fontana’s during CMJ

Corita footwear/hardware/pedals

To continue the CMJ madness, as soon as we finished our set and thanked our friends for coming my friend Minnie (who took the pictures of Corita here) and I ran 10 blocks north just in time to catch Torches’ second New York show, which was part of an official showcase for Rockstar Motel. Minnie was in town from Paris via Montreal to soak up as much NYC as she could in a short time.

Torches at Santos Party House

I took a night off on Thursday and Friday got to keep the party going with the master of partying himself, Andrew W.K. as Torches were playing a show at Santos Party House.

Torches play Santos Party House during CMJ

Girl trouble: Minnie and Bridgette

Saturday I felt I could start to recover from the frantic week of rock and work, enjoy my friends’ company and take in more rock shows. The day started with an assessment of the state of my apartment, which resembled the fallout after an indie rock bomb explosion. In the midst of this I made apple cinnamon pancakes to fortify us all for the night of rock and roll ahead.

The chaos and energy of CMJ extended all the way into my apartment

Apple pancakes to fuel the rock’n’roll lifestyle

Saturday night brought the discovery of two new-to-me (but maybe old news to everyone else) bands: Weekend and Wild Nothing. Weekend treads heavily in early 1990s shoegaze territory, which is one of my favorite periods of music, and I heard echoes of the Stone Roses, Ride and even a little New Order in their set. Wild Nothing solidly references 1980s New Wave and I felt like I heard snippets of the Smiths, the Cure, and more New Order all evening. Because I have a tendency to listen the same music over and over, being inspired to get off my duff and find out about new bands was refreshing.

Weekend at the Bowery Ballroom for CMJ

Wild Nothing at the Bowery Ballroom during CMJ

While CMJ officially finished on Saturday, Torches still had one more NYC show on Sunday night, so we were able to extend the party a little longer. At Pianos they shared the stage with The Golden Awesome, a band based in New Zealand that makes beautiful, drony, dreamy pop that is reminiscent of Stereolab or Broadcast.

Torches open their final show in NYC at Pianos

Bridgette from Torches on the snare drum at Pianos

Torches’ final NYC shows was one of their best, though I loved being able to catch them four times during the week.  Their songs contain shimmering pop riffs, memorable hooks and beautiful vocal harmonies that are driven by thoughtful lyrics. Despite hailing from sunny Los Angeles, Torches songs tend towards the dark, but there’s always a kernel of redemption in them. It’s been exciting to watch their progress as a band since we met them in March and I know they have much more in store as a band.

Azad and Eric from Torches at Pianos

Bridgette from Torches at Pianos

After their show and some celebratory pizza I waved goodbye to Torches as they prepared to drive through the night to their final show on tour in Chicago. As we promised to see each other soon I realized that one of the reasons I love being involved in indie rock, for lack of a better term, is the friendships I’ve forged over the years. It still amazes me that I can meet people who live so far from me, with very different life experiences, and bond so quickly and complicity. The music gives us a venue to share our sources of creativity and inspiration and connect around some of the things that we hold most dear to our lives.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the official video for Torches’ song “I Want Something”:

Thank you, all, for great week. Also, on a practical note, Torches are running an Indie Go Go campaign to raise money to record their new album. Check it out and give if you want to be part of seeing an inspiring, emerging band “make it.”

MiLK & Fruit Juice in NYC!

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

It started with a tweet, “When I am I going to see Corita play?” It seemed like a simple enough question, except that the author of the tweet was Michel, of the indie band MiLK & Fruit Juice and he lives in France. Unfortunately Corita did not have (and still does not have) any plans to play a show in France. Or anywhere else outside of New York. So I wrote back, “I don’t know, when are you coming to New York? I’ll set up a show.” Then I got a better idea, “Why don’t you play a solo show with us?”  When Michel told me he was coming to NYC in September I wasted no time in booking a venue. However, I knew the other members of MiLK & Fruit Juice could not come to NYC and that being on stage alone in a new city is intimidating, and so I volunteered to be the backing band.

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

First of all, let me explain why I love MiLK & Fruit Juice: Michel writes catchy, dreamy songs that are full of heart. Some of them sound a bit twee, with with accents of toy instruments and excellent backing vocals from Marjorie and Sabine, but there’s also a twist of sadness, irony and realism. I am delighted to have met someone all the way across the Atlantic that shares so many of the same musical interests and passions as me. While that may seem like a small thing in this Internet age, when you meet in person, it still seems pretty magical.

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

On a rainy night in September at Spike Hill in Williamsburg the Pale Lights, MiLK & Fruit Juice and Corita shared the stage. Michel and I had one practice together under our belt and I was playing drums and singing back up on five of his songs. The day of the show I listened to the songs from his well-crafted album I’m Cold Handed Because I Have No Heart to Pump The Blood Through My Fingers  on repeat.  That night Michel  debuted a beautiful, vintage Silvertone guitar he had found at Rivington guitars.  I got to break out of my usual role as a guitar player and play drums, with drum sticks that Lisa Goldstein of the Pale Lights loaned to me for Michel’s set.  Apparently I kept the fact that I play drums secret from my friends, but I actually took drum lessons for several years in middle school! I never really graduated beyond a 4/4 rock beat though. In any event, it was really fun (and a little nerve wracking) to be on stage playing drums supporting a friend whose music I love and who lives so far away. Anne, who co-runs the label MonsterK7 in Montreal and Paris, took these beautiful photos and video, and Sabine was kind enough to share with me. Enjoy and if you like Michel’s music perhaps you will set up a show for him in your town! Or at least buy his record.

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

Photo by Anne Bourgeon

Photo by Anne Bourgeon